Forget the cloud: what’s in it for you?

Rackspace is never backward in coming forward with suggestions that help it grow its business. Like many others, it has found the independent survey a good way of generating attention. (Disclosure: most of my work is for a company that has a reputation for well thought out surveys.)

All surveys though, good or bad, tell us something. It might be about the company setting the questions or it might be about the respondents. I’m a sucker for them and find that most of the ones that cross my desk are interesting.

Rackspace commissioned Vanson Bourne to do one on ‘Cloud Hosting Awareness’ among small and medium sized companies in the UK and the USA. It found that UK-based small businesses were more aware of the subject than their counterparts in the USA. (Being an egotist, I’d like to think that this is thanks to SmallBizPod.)

Anyway, the figure is 33 percent. The rest have never heard of Cloud Hosting. And why the heck should they? Why should anyone who’s trying to run a business even need to know that ‘cloud’ anything even exists?

Just to put a bit more meat on the research bones, 28 percent of the UK respondents were considering using cloud hosting. And 34 percent – one percent more than had heard of it – thought they had no need for it or that it provided no additional benefit over their existing hosted service. Cost was the second most cited barrier at 29 percent.

Of course, I’m not privy to the nuances of the research – whether Cloud Hosting was explained before asking the later questions. What I do know is Rackspace’s reaction:

…small businesses may be shying away from Cloud Hosting because they do not fully understand the added benefits over their existing hosting solution and, even more surprising; they may view the cloud as being cost prohibitive. This could be a detrimental mix up for small businesses in that they could benefit from the cloud’s scalability and cost efficiency, especially when coupled with their current traditional hosting configuration. A hybrid hosting solution can make for a truly powerful option.

If a small business is providing web-based services, then ‘cloud hosting’ is probably relevant and Rackspace is probably already on their radar. If it’s just a common or garden small business that’s trying to survive present market conditions, then technical arguments aren’t going to work.

People need to know what’s on offer and how it will help them do better business. And the offer has to relate to business applications, not plumbing.

David Terrar is a decent chap – ex-IBM and all that good stuff – and has a few years experience of providing cloud-based services. Twinfield delivers online accounting to businesses of all sizes, while WordFrame is an online social collaboration and web publishing service.

I asked him to get away from the specifics of his offerings and tell me what additional generic benefits derive from cloud hosting. He came up with three.

First of all, because the services are provided through a web browser, work can be done from anywhere. Or you can get people to do stuff for you from anywhere – data input in another country maybe?

If you have to work with others – accountants, business partners, suppliers, customers – it’s possible to open up (part of) your online system to them, subject to authentication.

Finally, a subject close to my heart, backup and resilience in general is all taken care of for you. (I’m still scrambling through the aftermath of my recent machine crash. I have a mirror of my system but I’m not at all sure I want to buy a replica of the machine that crashed. Ergo, mirror fairly useless.)

Sorry about the last bit. Hopefully this post has given you some things to consider saying the next time someone tries to interest you in buying cloud services. Essentially it boils down to, “Yes, but what’s in it for me?” And get them to answer in business terms.

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